Sunday 26 December 2010

Classy Cards and Gifts

Posh Caro Stow-Crat and middle-class Sam Upward say “Happy Christmas” and never write it Xmas, or use the word Yuletide. Eileen Weybridge and lower-middle-class Jen Teale write it Xmas and may say “Merry Christmas”. Howard Weybridge says “Compliments of the season!” Christian Teales carefully explain that it’s really Christ – Mass. (Upwards strike back with the info that X stands for Christ.

Sam and Caro give presents, Eileen and Jen give gifts. Harry Stow-Crat asks Caro what she wants: “Slosh, dosh or nosh?” (scent, money or food?). Sam gives everyone vouchers to build toilets in Ghana.

Sam wonders how long she should keep the jokey teapot from Eileen and Howard before giving it to the hospice shop. And she’s trying to hide the pungently scented candle decorated with pressed flowers that Jen’s given her. Jen can’t eat the misshapen fudge made by Sam’s children, delivered in a hand-made cardboard box, and feeds it to the pigeons.

Who was it who said that listening to Julie Andrews was like being hit over the head with a greetings card? Samantha sends cards with Gothic illuminations or nuns playing ice hockey—or else she puts an ad in the Times explaining she’ll be donating the money to help save the planet this year. But she writes “Season’s Greetings” inside the cards because she’s also sending them to her Muslim doctor, the Sikh couple in the corner shop, and some Jewish friends.

Sam listens to medieval Christmas music performed by Early Music groups. Gideon loves a good sing-song once a year and enjoys belting out Good King Wenceslas. Teales watch Songs of Praise and know all the words to Winter Wonderland and Let It Snow. The working-class Definitelies either ignore the whole thing and listen to Hip Hop, or join a Gospel choir.

Saturday 25 December 2010

How Do You Do Christmas?

Every year, Upwards wail about how horrible and commercial (i.e. expensive) Christmas is, while Teales witter about “the magic of”. (“Simplifying Christmas” means doing it for less.)
Everybody divides the holiday into “good Christmas” and “bad Christmas”. The bad is crowds in Oxford Street, people making money, people spending money, overindulgence generally. The good is carols from Kings College, twinkling from candles and decorations, and the living room theatre of Santa Claus’ visit (the mince pie with the bite out of it).

When the Upwards, Weybridges and Teales get together over sherry and nibbles, they almost come to blows over the Santa Claus question. Sam and Gideon won’t lie to their kids, while the others wax sentimental over the glowing faces of the little ones. Howard blusters over the council’s attempts to call Christmas “Winterval” (an urban myth, like Baa Baa Green Sheep). Bryan Teale, who works in the public sector, grumbles that his department weren’t allowed to sing carols.

Sam announces to anyone who will listen that they are having a goose, not a turkey, this year. When Country Living was fashionable, Sam used to make her own wreaths out of twigs and holly, and vast arrangements of autumn leaves. She hasn’t quite caught up with white ironic cutout Christmas trees, black tinsel etc. Now she decorates with holly and evergreens she’s picked in a real wood, explaining that it’s a symbol of everlasting life. She may have a few decorations, but they’ll be angels she made herself out of salt dough, or gingham stars. (Mrs Definitely crochets snowflakes to hang on her tree, and may even crochet a “tree skirt” for it.)

The Teales and Weybridges (and the Weybridges’ Australian au pair) go on a winter minibreak to a Christmas market in Prague and love all the glitter, choirs and wooden toys.

The Stow-Crats (plus the Stow Crats and Stowcrats who are trying to move with the times and live down their background) have a huge house party and play charades.

The Weybridges have a traditional Christmas dinner down to the last mince pie, cake and flaming pudding. They have a lot of cocktail parties for neighbours with traditional Japanese rice crackers and cheese footballs, which they call “cocktail snacks”. But they’ve learned to laugh at cubes of cheese on cocktail sticks stuck into half an orange.

The Definitelies get their party food from Iceland, including Thai prawn parcels with chilli dip, and veal roll (with a short O). They give vast cards with a lot of glitter, and decorate the outside of their house with glowing deer, Santas and elves and a huge MERRY CHRISTMAS.

Wednesday 22 December 2010

What Your Name Says About You

Weybridges are very fussy about people shortening their children’s names. “It’s Anthony - if we wanted to call him Tony we’d have named him Tony.” They search carefully for names you can’t shorten, and then brag about how clever they’ve been. The Stow-Crats call each other Johnny, Bobby, Timmy, Vicky, Mummy and Daddy. Everybody else shortens to: Bob, Tim, Mum, Dad. To the Definitelies, Lawrences are Lol, Garys are Gaz or Gazza.

Weybridges may call their children names that are one letter off a well-used name: Isopel, or Gillian with a hard G. Thalia Upward picks a unique, individual, cool name for her daughter that will knock all the other mothers’ eyes out - and then she discovers there are five other Helianthes in the playgroup.

Upwards call their daughters: Lily, Daisy, Rosa, Poppy, Flora, Iris, Ruby
Teales: Primrose, Fern, Jonquil, Pansy, Laurel
Stow Crats: Lavender, Viola, Linden, Primrose
Weybridges: Marigold, Holly, Heather, Erica, Cherry, Olive, Rosemary, Marguerite, Hazel, Beryl
Definitelies: Bryony, Violet, Ivy, Jasmine, Jade, Rowan, Saffron, Willow, Pearl

The Definitelies are notorious for calling their children two-syllable names so that they can wail the second syllable when calling them in or telling them off (“Oh, DarrEN!”). Upwards carefully avoid these.

Upwards are never, ever called Lowri. Or Ashlyn. Or Lorne. Formerly, their names never ended in “...ine” but this rule has been relaxed.

Stow-Crats pronounce Ralph as “Rafe”; for Upwards and Weybridges it’s “Rarlph”; everyone else rhymes it with Alf. Eve-lyns are Upward, Ev-lyns are Weybridge.

In Weybridge, Lindsey is for girls, Lindsay for boys. Teales are Linsey, Definitelies Linzi.
Sharon Definitely calls her girls Brooke, Madison and Tayla. Christine Teale’s children are Cullum and Bryony. Trevor, Kenneth and Kevin are Teales. Irish/Scots names are still fashionable, but different ones: Conan, Ronan, Cullum, Callum. Craig and Darren are now dads.

Older Weybridges are Arnold, Gordon, Norman, or names borrowed from grand families: Howard, Neville. Loz, Caz, Gaz, Suz, Jez are 80s throwbacks trying to be working class. The 80s were a gift to the upwardly or downwardly mobile because you could adopt the lefty vocabulary, uniform and lifestyle wholesale and no-one had a clue where you came from.

Upwards have neutral surnames because their families massaged or changed them in the 19th century (Mudds became Maudes, Smellies became Smileys). Stow-Crats can get away with being called Panter-Downes, Bodham-Wetton, Bigg-Wither or Page-Turner. Teales and Definitelies may have strange mutated surnames like Mook, Bivvins or Custage. Teales live with names like Iball because they don’t know you can change them. Nouveau-Richards change or make up their names but don’t get it quite right, like Miss Snevellicci and Miss Ledrook in Nicholas Nickleby.

A hyphenated surname looks posh. Some bearers have removed the hyphen (Martha Lane Fox) or run the names together (Lanefox). What was the idea? Sometimes a man married into a posher family and added its name to his own. Sometimes people were left legacies on condition they added (or adopted) a name. But you may end up Fearnley-Whittingstall. Or Hall-Hall. Or Digby-Vane-Trumpington. A double surname may indicate a mother who refused to drop her own surname, but the resulting combo may not be euphonious (Sneed-Sharpley).

Forms of Address

Sir John, the Right Reverend, Your Majesties...
Caroline Stow-Crat gives us the benefit of her experience:

Fans of Downton Abbey on the gogglebox faulted Maggie Smith for addressing a Duke as "Duke" - but that is how you address a Duke. It's only servants who call him "Your Grace".

To start from the top, when you first meet the Queen you call her "Your Majesty" - subsequently you call her "Ma'am", to rhyme with spam. For Prince Charles it's "Your Royal Highness" and "Sir".

Whatever you do, don't ask the titled person how you should address them. If you're not sure, discreetly ask someone else, or follow their lead. Admittedly, it doesn't help if the titled person is known to their intimates as "Bobo". In any walk of life, it doesn't do to call someone by a nickname if you aren't of their inner circle.

Anyone called Lord John Jones is the younger son of a Duke or Earl. Life peers are Lord Jones, or John Jones, not Lord John Jones.

A Knight is called Sir John Jones and is addressed as "Sir John"; his wife is "Lady Jones".

If you're going abroad, read one of those "Going to Syldavia on Business" type books, which should tell you if the Germans still call each other Fraulein Schmidt and Herr Braun when they've known each other for years.

If you're introduced from someone from the Far East, try and work out which is the family and which is the personal name. The Chinese put family names first, but they may switch to make it easier for you.

My friends Jen and Mrs Definitely talk about “grandfather” and “mother-in-law”, whereas I'd say “my grandfather” or “grandpa”. I call my mother-in-law by her first name, and refer to her as "Harry's mother".

have the full story – also in book form.

Quotes about Names

Your name says such a lot about you...

David Figlio of the University of Florida showed that girls given more feminine names are less likely to study maths or science, and that parents could set female twins on to opposing career paths by giving them names at either end of what he calls the femininity spectrum. He also showed that by giving children names which teachers perceive as being lower-status you may lower their likely academic achievement in comparison with children with more traditional names.

Our hero of the week is Alistair McLean, boss of the upmarket travel company Activities Abroad, who delivered an un-PC broadside against Britain’s chavs in a letter to customers. He simply identified the names of people you wouldn’t find on an Activities Abroad holiday: Dazza, Britney, Chardonnay, Shannon, Candice and the like. The names you would hear will be ones like John, Henry and Anne, he said.

My dad is adamant no one should ever shorten our names because “they're not the names he gave us” - no one calls me Rach or Andrew Andy in front of my dad. Guardian Mar 8 08

At my school, no one was called Jonathan and it was considered posh, but my family wouldn't let me shorten it. People would phone up and ask for John or Johnny and my parents would say "Nope, no one here called that." Guardian ditto

More here, and links to the rest.

Saturday 11 December 2010

When Do You Eat?

When Princess Marina was visiting a friend with a stately home open to the public, she looked out of the window in the middle of the afternoon and saw visitors picnicking on the lawn. Deeply puzzled, she asked: “What meal can they possibly be having?”

The later you eat, the grander you are. In Jane Austen’s books, “dinner” was a meal you had at three in the afternoon, followed by “tea” at seven and supper before you went to bed. Dinner slipped, first to five, then to about eight in the mid 19th century. Austen’s descendants felt they had to apologise for her characters eating at the "wrong" times of day.

Afternoon tea is eaten 4-5.30 and consists of tea, cake, biscuits, dainty sandwiches and scones; high tea is eaten from 5.30-7 and consists of tea, cake, sandwiches, salad, boiled eggs, beans on toast, cornish pasties etc, or else what the Upwards would class as “supper” dishes: spaghetti bolognese, cold meat and salad, thick soup, pizza.

A letter to the Guardian (July 08) twitted David Cameron for being the last person in Britain to use the word “supper”. This was a snide dig at his status: as an Upward he’d say “dinner” for a meal eaten with friends at about 8.30, or a meal out, but “supper” for a meal eaten with the children in the kitchen at around seven, though informally he’d say “Do you want to come round and eat?” Jen would say “come round for a meal”.

Or did the writer just want to sneer at him for being posh and had to pick on something? Looks like it. Use of the word “supper” attracts a volley of sneers. “It seems to me that only posh people (like Nigella Lawson) have supper. What exactly IS it and why is it only people who are or are trying to be posh use it?” Digital Spy Forum This jibe is fairly recent. The Last, and “sing for your” don’t seem to bother anybody.

If you accept the Upwards’ dinner invite, they make you wait around four hours, fainting from hunger. They then eat a huge meal at about 9 pm, meaning that they don’t need to eat breakfast, and don’t eat lunch till about 2pm (leaving you fainting once more, or feeling like a peasant for wanting to eat at 12).

Nancy Mitford (whose father was a Lord) ruled that it was common to say "cooked breakfast". This is because to her, the norm was a breakfast buffet laid out in the dining room of your stately home (with bacon, haddock, kidneys, scrambled egg etc on a hot plate).

Heat-Saving Tips

We, the Stow-Crats, live in a big house that was passed down through Harry's family. It's an old manor house, and bits of it used to be a monastery. It sleeps 16, and as you can imagine it's pretty draughty.

If you live in a converted Georgian rectory, you probably have some of the same problems. So here are my tips for keeping warm without breaking the bank. You might even help to save the planet too!

1. Live in (and heat) two or three rooms. Pick small ones, close together. Think of them as a flat!

2. Live in your kitchen. The Aga is a good source of heat. (If you don't have an Aga, install one.) Move in the telly, your laptop, a sofa, and some armchairs. Of course you already have a kitchen table and chairs. Think of it as a café!

3. Fit floor-length, lined curtains to all your windows (which are probably original wooden sashes and rather draughty). If you aren't using a room during the day, keep the curtains closed. Weight the bottom of the curtains with lead weights. (Shut the curtains and blinds in the parts of the house you aren't using, too. If you have Georgian shutters, shut them. If your house is post-1900, you can fit Swiss-style external shutters, and close those. Oh - and don't forget to insulate your loft.)

4. If your curtains aren't floor-length, close them and tuck the ends into the window sill, or behind the radiator. You don't want all that lovely paid-for heat to go out through the glass, do you?

5. Keep the curtains or blinds drawn in the bathroom.

6. Open fires are lovely, but a lot of the heat goes up the chimney - drawing a draught from the cracks round the door, and the keyhole. Sellotape up the keyhole, and make a thick curtain to hang in front of the door. Also a draught excluder to put along the bottom (you can put them under the windows too).

7. Another trick for large rooms with open fires is to put up a screen around the back of your chair.

8. Wear knee socks, thermal vests, long johns and thick jerseys. Quilted body warmers are also pretty effective. (The Victorians called them "hug-me-tights".)

9. If you live in a smaller house and you've knocked down all the partition walls to create an open-plan live/work/eat/sleep/cook/work area, rebuild them and create small, easily heated cells. Just remember to make the kitchen big enough to eat in.

10. The Victorians, who lived in big, draughty houses, knew all these tricks. How did we forget them? They also wore wrist warmers and shawls, and tucked their feet into foot muffs.

11. And insulate your bath! Tape loft insulation round the outside. And I believe you can buy insulated baths.

12. Stick baco foil behind your radiators to reflect the heat, and fit a shelf above them. Or you can get special sticky-backed foil.

Thursday 9 December 2010

Proper Table Manners

Caroline Stow-Crat explains modern table manners.

People like us – that’s me and Harry, and our friends Gideon and Samantha – used to lay traps for the unwary eater. If you didn’t know how to eat oysters or snails or asparagus you’d be shown up. Oysters have rather gone out, and if you’re served snails you’ll be given a kind of forceps arrangement – you use it to hold the shell while you remove the snail with a fork. Asparagus? Pick up a spear by the blunt end, dip the pointy end in the melted butter and eat it. (Discard the blunt end.)

Globe artichokes: they’re not very fashionable now, but if offered one here’s the drill. Pick off the “petals”, dip the fat end in the melted butter or vinaigrette and scrape the edible bit off with your teeth. It’s not as crude as it sounds! Pile up the discarded petals on the plate provided. When you get to the middle, watch out for the spiky bit. Remove it with a knife and fork, and use these to cut up and eat the delicious “heart”.

If you do get invited to a very grand home, or the Lord Mayor’s banquet, use the cutlery (pronounced cutler-y not cuttle-ry) from the outside in. (Your soup spoon will be on the far right, and so on.) If in doubt, follow what your neighbours do.

In my mother’s day, at formal dinners you ate the fruit course with a silver knife and fork. But now when it’s just Harry and me and the children, we get something out of the deep freeze and eat in the kitchen. It’s so convenient having a 20-foot kitchen table. (I still call it a deep freeze because I'm conservative with a small c! "Freezer" sounds so American.)

Mummy also used to say that if you want the salt, you have to say “Would you like the salt?” and the party of the second part has to say “No, but would you like it?” and get someone to pass it to you. It may not apply to salt any more, but bear this code in mind if you want to survive life in England. Debrett’s says: “Top and tail requests with pleasantries.

You should never sprinkle salt over your food but put a pile on the side of your plate. Actually this is quite old fashioned – it would never work with a salt grinder. And Samantha never puts salt in anything, and doesn’t let you add it. She’s always on some kind of cranky health kick!

Mummy used to say that you shouldn't cut your lettuce or roll (and don’t call it a bread roll, because what else would it be made of?). We always eat lettuce with a knife and fork and nobody seems to mind.

When not using your knife and fork, lay them on your plate (don’t hold them in your fists pointing at your dinner companion). And don't spear the last few peas with the tines of your fork - just leave them there "for Mr Manners".

Samantha and Eileen both have strange family rules: don’t drink while you eat, no peas after 2pm, no mustard at breakfast, don’t cut the nose off the cheese. I don't know where they get them from! Eileen’s very keen on her children learning “proper table manners” so that they’ll know what to do on “formal occasions”. Samantha thinks every occasion should be INformal!

But really manners are easy. Keep your mouth shut while you eat, try not to talk at the same time, don’t chew noisily. Just try not to revolt other people!

Saturday 4 December 2010

The Demon Drink

“What’s particularly interesting ... is the sense something previously thought of as a working class problem, actually has resonance across a broader social spectrum.” Frank Sooden of Alcohol Concern, Evening Standard April 4, 2008

“Few things mark where we stand in society more clearly than our attitude towards instant coffee.” cookery writer Nigel Slater

Upwards, Weybridges and Teales unite in condemning binge drinking, and youths (read chavs) taking over town centres at night. They are furious when statistics show that the worst soaks are the middle class heavy drinkers of the Home Counties.

Chavs are more numerous, and like living in public. And as Teales, Upwards and Weybridges age they go out a lot less and forget what other people are like. Chavs form crowds, which the middle classes find threatening. They like to go out in a crowd and raise their voices in public - one of the many ways they resemble the upper classes. At the same time Upwards moan that the British have lost the art of street life (they do it so much better on the continent), and that we should revive the spirit of carnival. They’re the ones who put on patronising local street festivals and wheel out the same old stilt-walking fire-eaters year after year.

Upwards got very into wine snobbery in the 70s. Now they just crack open any old bottle around 5pm. They used to look very askance if one of their number wanted to buy a takeaway coffee on a train journey (it would be the wrong kind of coffee from a common outlet and it would cost). You were just supposed to dehydrate for the entire journey. In the past 20 years, thanks to Starbucks, they’ve changed their minds and spend far too much on overpriced lattes.

The middle classes drink weak tea and strong coffee. Teales and Definitelies drink strong tea and weak coffee. Do you put the milk in your tea first or second? Samantha and Caroline put milk in tea last or not at all. Teales used to drink milky coffee with food - now they drink Snapple, or Innocent smoothies (Sam makes her own in an expensive retro Osterizer).

Mrs Definitely puts a PG Tips tea bag in a mug, pours in boiling water, mixes it around, pours in a lot of full-fat milk and mixes the bag around until the whole goes the colour of an old stocking. Sam forces her guests to drink Earl Grey tasting of sun-tan oil and adds milk so that it looks like dishwater. The strongest tea in her cupboard is English Breakfast. Her idea of a strong cup of tea is a cup of weak English Breakfast with not much milk in it. Caro offers Earl Grey without milk, or Darjeeling with. Arkana has a collection of herb teas which have passed their sell-by date. None of them would refer to “a tea” or “a coffee”, or “a drink” meaning tea or coffee. They’d say “a cup of tea”, and a “drink” is alcohol. Definitelies say “Time for a cuppa”.

Thursday 2 December 2010

Phone for the Fish-Knives

Any discussion of social class in England will come down to the question of cutlery at some point. Doesn't the way you use your knife and fork reveal your social standing? English people have always been very worried about fish knives. Is it posh to have them, or common? And why? In John Betjeman's poem everything mentioned was thought vulgar or common by the Stow Crats and Upwards of the 1920s. There's a key to the solecisms below the poem.

How To Get On In Society by John Betjeman
Phone for the fish knives, Norman
As cook is a little unnerved;

You kiddies have crumpled the serviettes
And I must have things daintily served.

Are the requisites all in the toilet?

The frills round the cutlets can wait

Till the girl has replenished the cruets
And switched on the logs in the grate.

It's ever so close in the lounge dear,

But the vestibule's comfy for tea
And Howard is riding on horseback
So do come and take some with me.

Now here is a fork for your pastries

And do use the couch for your feet;
I know what I wanted to ask you-
Is trifle sufficient for sweet?

Milk and then just as it comes dear?
I'm afraid the preserve's full of stones;
Beg pardon, I'm soiling the doileys
With afternoon tea-cakes and scones.

Phone for the fish knives, Norman
She should have said telephone, not phone, but this is old fashioned. What to say now? How about: “Call them up.”

It’s a mystery why fish knives are common. One legend says that fish turned steel black (before it was stainless), so people ate fish with two silver forks (because all their forks were silver). People who bought special silver fish knives were looked down on, which is odd because they were just being practical. Perhaps it branded them as arrivistes who were buying their first set of silver cutlery? This was circa 1820, by the way.

Calling your child Norman is trying too hard to sound classy by association with those aristocratic Norman conquerors.

As Cook is a little unnerved;
People with cooks didn’t call them “Cook”, but Mrs Smith or whatever their name was.
Unnerved is a genteel euphemism for whatever ails the cook.

You kiddies have crumpled the serviettes
You call your children “children”. “You children” is also taboo, and rather rude.

Serviettes in those days were called napkins (this is out of date).

And I must have things daintily served.
Upwards don’t try to be dainty. They’d probably call it “fussy” or “twee”. (They have their own kind of insufferable tweeness but that’s another story.) And you don't "serve" food in your own home.

Are the requisites all in the toilet?
Presumably she means “Is there enough loopaper?” Requisite is a euphemism used by purveyors of what might now be called “toiletries”. But we can’t use the words chosen by someone who’s trying to sell us the stuff. Posh people now call a toilet a "loo" (it used to be "lav").

The frills round the cutlets can wait
A paper frill around a cutlet is something you might find in a restaurant, not at home. (They used to put them on the ends of legs of lamb, too.)

Till the girl has replenished the cruets
You didn’t call your housemaid “the girl”, but used her first, or second, name. Cruet is a would-be grand name for salt, pepper and mustard. (And she should have said "until", not "till".)

And switched on the logs in the grate. The logs should be real, not electric.

It's ever so close in the lounge dear,
Upwards say “stuffy” and “sitting room” and don’t call each other “dear” unless they’re trying to be rude. Only airports and hotels have lounges. And it's "very" or "awfully", not "ever so".

But the vestibule's comfy for tea
There’s something risible about any word ending in “ule”. Perhaps the speaker means the entrance hall, which would be “comfy for tea” if it was large enough and had its own fireplace. If she lives in Haslemere it’s wood-panelled and vast, to show that she’s rich enough to waste space. But if you’re never invited further than the entrance hall you know you haven’t quite made the grade. So she’s being both show-offy and rude. (And she shouldn't have shortened "comfortable".)

And Howard is out riding on horseback
is another name claiming grand associations (Castle Howard). Upwards and Stow Crats just “ride” – what else would you ride on?

So do come and take some with me
Upwards “have” tea, they don’t “take” it. The don’t take classes, or offence, either.

Now here is a fork for your pastries
Upwards are supposed to eat tea food in their fingers, or in a paper serviette, instead of sensibly using a fork. And "pastries" sounds like something you'd be served in a teashop, not a private house.

And do use the couch for your feet;
The thing you sit on is a sofa. If it’s a chaise longue, you can put your feet up on it. Otherwise you rest them on a footstool.

I know what I wanted to ask you- Is trifle sufficient for sweet?
Sufficient” is genteel for “enough”. What you eat after your main course is called “pudding” even if it’s a lemon sorbet or fruit salad, but “dessert” is making progress.

Milk first and then just as it comes, dear?
Milk first or milk second in tea divides people as much as whether they tell their children Santa Claus is real. The jury is still out.

I'm afraid the preserve's full of stones;

That’s “jam”.

Beg pardon, I'm soiling the doileys
“Sorry” not “beg pardon” or “pardon”. You “dirty” things, you don’t “soil” them (say what you mean, don’t use a euphemism). And you don’t rest your cakes on a lacy paper doiley.

With afternoon tea-cakes and scones.
Tea in the afternoon is just “tea”. You don’t want people to think you are distinguishing it from “high tea”, which the Upwards would call “supper”. Scone is pronounced with a short O.

Best Loved Poems of John Betjeman

Thursday 25 November 2010

Come into the Garden

Trellis is "twee" and timber garden sheds are "flouncy". Guardian Sat June 28 08

For these berserkers it's not enough to mow the existing grass and prune overgrown trees, and just live there. In some anal need to banish nature, they'll chop down the trees, take down hedges that gave privacy to the neighbors... banish anything that might attract a bee or caterpillar, rip out everything but chemically tended grass, and throw Round-up around like salt on popcorn. I'm not talking about renewing an old garden, or making space for a new one but of deliberately disappearing any semblance of a garden. They are not NON-gardeners - they are ANTI-gardeners.

Caroline Stow-Crat thinks rockeries and crazy paving are “suburban”. And as for gnomes! But “the earliest gnomes arrived in Britain during the 1860s at Lamport Hall in Northampton where they inhabited a large rockery.” (Museum of Garden History website) She also despises chrysanthemums (which the Definitelies call "mums").

Why the fear of suburbs? All English houses aspire to be a country house with grounds, but in the suburbs there is only room for a strip at the front and a patch at the back. Even in cities, Victorian terraces were built with a strip separating them from the pavement. Today the strips are home to dustbins and overgrown Victorian shrubs (cotoneaster, privet, spotted laurel) selected more for their resistance to soot than their beauty - if they haven’t been turned sensibly into parking spaces. According to the Evening Standard (Jan 30 08), “suburbia is the most popular residential location of choice for about 60 per cent of households”.

Samantha Upward takes country house Sissinghurst or country opera venue Glyndebourne as her gardening model, despite having only 30 feet of back garden. She tries to reproduce an all-white garden, or crammed herbaceous borders. Primary colours are out. She thinks it’s suburban to tarmac your drive (gravel’s OK), and fulminates against those who concrete over their front gardens to create a parking place - nowhere for rain to soak in, we’ll all be under three feet of water in a few years. She doesn’t know whether to create a Mediterranean/ Dungeness dry garden to save water or plant a lot of rushes and watermint and wait for the floods.

If Samantha lives in the city she creates a jungle in the back yard with several large sculptures. She can’t have anything variegated, unlike Eileen and Howard Weybridge. Shrubs in clashing colours (robinia and copper beech) surround their Orpington home, where Virginia creeper only partly conceals the pebble-dash. Their patio is paved in York stone and somewhere there’s a bird bath or sundial, or both. They go so well with the concrete shepherdess. Sam bans shepherdesses and cupids, but her sculptures (by living artists) are just as sentimental in their own way.

If you’re the Countess of Northumberland you can do whatever you like and have a treehouse, giant waterslide and poison garden - but there was an awful lot of huffing while work was in progress at Alnwick (pronounced “Annick”).

There’s a snobbery of rose varieties: they have to be old roses from the right suppliers. (Pale pink and rumpled, with a sweet scent, they’re like 30s underwear.) Jen Teale has hybrid teas roses called Ena Harkness and Waltztime, scentless and firmly scrolled, and orange or salmon-pink (the colours of mid-60s lipstick, which is probably when they were bred). She also has a shaved lawn with no moss or weeds (Samantha sneers at people who cut their grass too short). Jen used to have either a clump of pampas grass or a laburnum in the centre of her lawn. Christine has a water feature and solar-powered garden lights. Both are common because electricity in any form (it powers the water feature) is unnatural. She also has decking, herring-bone brick paths and a circular patio in the centre of the back garden. And a brick-paved drive. When she bought the house she cleared the garden of any plants that were growing there.

Some Weybridges have a Spanish colonial mansion outside Haslemere with green curved roof tiles and wrought iron balconies. The grounds were laid out c. 1920 by a follower of Gertrude Jekyll and incorporate a small wood and lots of vivid rhododendrons and azaleas. Otherwise, or as well, Eileen has a mature monkey puzzle tree (araucaria), and (if she lives in the West Country) palm trees. In the 60s she had a vast lawn with a small heather garden, or a collection of dwarf conifers, at the end. In fine weather she relaxes in a padded 3-seater "swinging hammock".

The Nouveau-Richards’s garden is mainly oceans of lawn that comes right up to the house with no shade trees or shrubs – They’re very proud of their “landscaped” grounds. “Landscaped’” means cleaned up, tidied and shaved - hoovered, like the house - with trees dotted neatly about and maybe a bright blue pool with carefully selected white rocks around it. It’s wipe-clean nature. Mr Nouveau-Richards still mows the grass using a sit-on lawnmower.

There’s a deck or patio with chairs, seed-packet sun loungers and umbrellas huddled near the house, a tennis-court over here, and a wishing well plonked in the middle of a field-size lawn. It’s not for the agoraphobic. Somewhere in the middle distance there’s an elaborate kid’s adventure playground cum tree/wendy house with pointed gables that’s much more attractive than the McMansion itself.

In the front there’s an area of gravel the size of a football pitch for all their friends to park, with a ten-car garage at the side. (There must be firms selling décor to the superrich, but why has no one persuaded them to lay out their grounds in imitation of Versailles? It’s kinda disappointing. They could at least have herbaceous borders full of canna lilies and clashing bedding plants. Apparently they’re now buying Zen gardens… or being sold them.)

More here, and links to the rest.

Sunday 14 November 2010

What Your Decor Says About You

They have a wine chiller, an espresso machine and his-and-hers TVs in their bathroom.

Michael Gove on Rosie Millard on Radio 4 being taken round a gazillionaire’s mansion, Times April 22, 2008: “...she was manifestly horrified by one, dominant, factor about the décor. Rosie had clearly been prepared for a vulgar display of ostentatious wealth, all gold taps, Swarovski crystal and white leather sofas. Instead, to her obvious disappointment and regret, everything was beige... The agent explained that the clientele with an interest in this place had grown used to living out of suitcases in five-star hotels, where every room is a lighter shade of beige, and they had come to associate that gentle colour scheme with luxury. Good taste even. To my ear, Rosie seemed quite moved on behalf of those in thrall to this delusion. The poor dears, condemned to thinking beige tasteful. How grimly, corporately, homogeneously, internationally, airport-loungely, bankerishly dull... beige is the colour not so much of bad taste as of no taste.”

The Stow-Crats have a drawing room (short for withdrawing room which was where the ladies “withdrew” after dinner so that both sexes could have a comfort break). Upwards have a sitting room, Weybridges and Teales a living room. Only airports and hotels have lounges. The ubertrendy Upwards have a flexible living space on the semi-mezzanine (their bedrooms are in the basement). They think this unconventional layout is fearfully “witty”.

The Nouveau-Richards’ house has huge rooms with space for several leather suites. There is nothing personal in sight. The fitted carpets are hoovered within an inch of their lives. It’s like a very upmarket B&B. There’s a vast marble-tiled hall with grand staircases curving up on either side and a huge sculpture dead centre. This room is used for nothing. The NRs buy old portraits and pretend they are of their own relatives. They – and the Definitelies – have a horseshoe-shaped sofa, which would be rather cosy.

Sam goes on living like a student for far too long. (According to Katherine Whitehorn we all think we belong with the group about ten years younger than us.) She aspires to the upper-class rotting-silk, antique-furniture, everything-covered-with-dog-hair look, but you need space for that. When she has children the toys and tiny clothes join the general clutter of laundry baskets on the sofa and catfood by the sink. Art by the children is bluetacked up next to posters of polar bears and aerial views of endangered rainforests and they all get a bit grubby and dog-eared. Her hall is full of bicycles and boots and the banisters are permanently draped with children’s pink duffel coats. In the 80s Sam rag rolled and sponge painted her walls in purple or lime. It was like living inside a boiled sweet. She covers her chairs and sofas with nonmatching “throws” instead of cleaning them. She moans a lot about people who install UPVC windows in period properties.

The Definitelies throw double-sided fake fur rugs on their beds. They also have a corner sofa plus coffee table, or a horseshoe one in black leather, plus a ceiling fan, a black shag pile carpet, an onyx table and a lifesize ceramic cheetah.

Some Bohemian Upwards add stuffed unicorns, dressmaker’s dummies and dried hydrangeas to the bicycles and coats in their halls. In the 70s, Arkana Nightshade painted her walls dark chocolate to set off her collection of antique lace garments and ostrich feathers in vases. The lace got dusty and brittle and the feathers were eaten by moths. She threw it all out and went in for feng shui. She offers to feng shui Sam’s life for a reduced fee, but Sam is terrified of becoming too tidy and Weybridge.

Sam and Caro Stow-Crat have open fires involving endless faff with coal, logs and rolled up newspaper, though the result is lovely. Sam may have a wood burning stove. The NRs have a hole-in-the-wall fire with (gas) flames coming up through a pile of pebbles. Now everyone’s got central heating, the Teales and Weybridges don’t need their coal-effect electric fires any more and either put the telly in the old fireplace or fill it with racks of wine bottles, or arrangements of fir-cones (which is what the Victorians did with theirs in the summer). The Definitelies have a wall-mounted, flat-panel, real-flame-effect number that emits heat as well. Or they have an “electric fireplace suite” (or just “electric suite”), that includes fireplace, mantel and integral electric (flame effect) fire. You can even get one that looks like a wood-burning stove, to the fury of the Upwards. Sam would call it a “mantelpiece”, with a slight shudder because she thinks there was some stricture in Nancy Mitford’s Noblesse Oblige. (It specifies “chimneypiece” – probably in reaction to vulgarly elaborate Edwardian overmantels with many brackets and shelves. Surely due a revival.)

Caro and the N-Rs have chandeliers, and so do the Definitelies, who bought theirs in the Woolworths closing-down sale. The N-Rs have theirs cleaned by a specialist company, and also hire art students to hand-paint their wallpaper and murals. Caro’s chandelier is in one of the state rooms she never uses, with each crystal tied up in muslin. It has never been converted to electricity. Every few years she takes it to bits and washes each crystal. She can give you tips on cleaning marble fireplaces, too.

Sam can’t have anything fitted except her kitchen and possibly not even that. She buys a dresser and a table and a Belfast sink (ripping out old 70s units) and hangs pans from hooks on the walls. She either strips the dresser or paints it white. She complains that people never cook in their “state-of-the-art” kitchens (and besides they cost £10,000). All her equipment is either bought in France (made of enamel to a design nobody’s changed for 50 years because there’s no need to) or in antique shops (also enamel, but cream/green rather than blue/red). She likes blue and white striped Cornish ware, or green Denby ware. Upwards have always loved hardware shops, maybe because the products are generic and never change. And because they love working class paraphernalia - but only when it’s 50 years out of date.

The Nouveau Richards have a fitted kitchen with many too many, too low cupboards, and “worktops” that you can’t do any work on because you’d hit your head on the cupboards. They have an “island” instead of a kitchen table. The Definitelies have black granite worktops and a breakfast bar.

Caro wonders: If you have a sitting room with an open fire, where do you put the television? Most people put it next to the fire. And what do you put it ON? A cabin trunk? A specially made low table? In the olden days, you put it in a separate room (and hotels had a “television room”).

Neither Sam nor Caro can use coasters (small, rigid mats you slip under people’s drinks or teacups to save your furniture). Caro leaves magazines on her furniture for people to put drinks down on. Sam doesn’t care, or else all her furniture is so covered with nicknacks, toys and old coffee mugs that there’s nowhere to put anything down anyway.

Eileen Weybridge has a set of coasters that matches her table mats: Indian red or forest green framing 18th century hunting scenes. She has large rooms with acres of pale, short-haired fitted carpet. Sam wonders how on earth she keeps it clean – but then Eileen is disciplined and efficient, and probably has a cleaning lady. The furniture is new repro, very shiny. Safe, unexciting pictures may include a bad oil or pastel portrait of Eileen or her daughter, or a meticulous painting of elephants. In her kitchen Eileen has a red Aga, and linen teatowels printed with unreliable legends about places she’s visited on holiday, or “old Cornish prayers”. She keeps her biscuits in a barrel, Sam keeps hers in a tin (that probably once held a gift assortment), and Caro keeps hers in a cream and green tin marked “biscuits” that’s been in the family for 75 years. The ubertrendy Upwards have the same tin, but it’s from a boutique which bought it at a boot sale.

The Teales have leather coasters printed with wolves — they collect Lupiana. They have wolf posters, wolf mouse mats, Howling Wolves cushion covers and a Running Grey Wolf Credit Card Case, and Jen embroiders large pictures incorporating a wolf, a bare tree, a crescent moon and an Indian brave. Other Teales collect fairyana, or - if male - cast their own metal-effect Dungeons and Dragons characters.

The Teales did up their house in the 80s and never moved on - or else the interiors shops in their area never moved on. Every room has a dado: stripes underneath, flowery border, little blobby pattern above in shades of orange, jade, brick, grey, pink, lemon. The bathroom has a tiled dado. They have the last tart’s knicker blinds surviving in the wild. Their windows have elaborate draped pelmets. Though thanks to strenuous efforts by TV makeover shows this stylistic elephant’s graveyard is being obliterated by magnolia paint and very, very neat minimalist interiors.

Caro's mother has photographs of the royals in silver frames on the grand piano. Mrs Definitely has all her family in plastic cubes on the telly, or in a multi-picture frame, or in non-matching frames on the mantelpiece. Upwards don't display family photos. Out of sight out of mind – they just forget what family members look like.

Successful Teales live in new-build flats or converted warehouses in Docklands. Their flats are feng shui’d to the (non-existent) coving and contain practically nothing apart from rubber rocking chairs, modular foam sofas and glass tables. They have state-of-the-art kitchens (with islands, extractor hoods, granite and brushed steel) that they never cook in. They have a terrace with decking and bamboos in pots - they came with the flat.

Why are posh accents described as “cut glass”? Cut glass is faceted like a diamond, and cut with a diamond wheel. If you can’t afford the real thing, you buy a moulded imitation. But when the real thing becomes cheaper and moves downmarket it is shunned by the middle classes. Also it’s too shiny for them. Stow Crats carry on using the cut glass bought by their 18th century ancestors.
More here. And more here. And here. And here.

World of Interiors

 Howard and Eileen Weybridge buy an old house in the country and paint it bright pink, add leaded windows, and decorate the outside with wagon wheels and those stone mushrooms barns used to sit on. Inside, there’s too much varnished dark wood with an orange cast. If they buy an Arts and Crafts house they rip out the beautiful wooden overmantels, block up the fireplaces, and knock through all the pantries, sculleries and entrance halls. They replace the stained glass with double glazing. Somehow anything post-Victorian doesn’t count as an “original feature”. They live in very expensive gated communities (now known as “enclaves”).

 The Definitelies have leaded, diamond-paned windows in their bought council flat, and a Georgian door with a fanlight, a Spanish wrought-iron outer door and loads of hanging baskets with pink geraniums, lobelias and petunias, like a pub. There are some Definitelies made good who have a bungalow on the North Circular. They’ve turned it into a mini-Versailles with a scalloped wall plus stone balls, and a door with a broken pediment and corinthian pilasters flanked by two lions couchant. The garden is full of dracaenas, which are the new pampas grass.

 Bryan and Jen Teale live in a boxy house built in the 60s. Somewhere inside it is a panel of embossed glass. They may build on a conservatory or log-ear or lowjear (loggia, pronounced lodger). (“We call it a canopy porch in Dorset”, as someone said on To Buy or Not to Buy.) If they make a lot of money, they build their “dream home” in the country. It has downlighters, slate floors, and an “open-plan kitchen/living area”. This is a kitchen and a living room without the wall in between – the “units” still describe the space where the kitchen would have been.

More here, and links to the rest.

Middle Class Houses

“Nine out of ten homebuyers, it seems, will always be drawn to a Georgian rectory in its own grounds.” Times, May 22, 2009 The article goes on to say that everybody wants land so that their children can have ponies. The Times is living in a world of its own, but why should we be surprised?

Samantha Upward can’t live in a gated community. Or in a new-build in commuting distance of work. Or any development with a show home. She can’t buy anything “off plan”. And she can't live in a 30s house. Upward houses used to be Georgian only, but approval was extended to Victorian houses, and then Edwardian. Late Victorian style was once abominated by Upwards. She never calls their house their "home".

Sam can’t live in an Arts and Crafts house either – much too Weybridge, golf courses and pines. And no half-timbering unless the house is genuinely Tudor - definitely not Bypass Variegated. A friend bought a 30s house and her circle were mortified. They made it into a big joke and called the place “Gnome Cottage”, even presenting her with a wooden plaque with the name carved on. Upwards are terribly unforgiving, and rigidly conformist while selling themselves as free spirits.

Gideon and Samantha don’t have a swimming pool, they use next door’s, though Sam would like a swimming pond. Howard and Eileen’s is kidney shaped. The N-Rs’ has a wave machine.

Tarmac drives are common – the upper classes have gravel. The Middletons (parents of Kate) have a tarmac drive at their large house in Berkshire. (And what’s wrong with that? Too like a road? Not eco-friendly? Upwards love to get together and complain about people who “concrete over their front gardens”.) Upwards and Weybridges who can afford it like a big house at the end of a long, long drive so that you’re cut off from other people – they call this “tranquillity”.

Most Upwards live in Victorian and Edwardian houses with as many "original features" as they can cram in. They strip all the wood "back", including the floorboards, and fill the place with collections of not-very-valuable objets d'art. There’s a tiny subset who buy an amusing 50s ranch style house and fill it with G plan furniture, Poole "Delphos" pottery and Whitefriars glass - to the bafflement of their friends and family.

Property Quotes

The Nouveau-Richards have a huge mansion in Cheshire with walled grounds, remotely operated electric gates, swimming pool, stables, paddocks, tennis court, games room, themed rooms, bar, plasma TVs, music in every room (in Victorian times it would have been ball rooms and billiard rooms). At their London house they have an underground lap pool. They'd be in the market for one of the following:

A magnificent waterfront residence standing in a prime position with its own two-berth marina and jetty. Six double bedrooms, eight bathrooms, three reception rooms, full-sized snooker/games room with associated bar/lounge, gymnasium, exceptional air-conditioned and humidified wine cellar, cinema room, private lift to all floors, wet room, seven-car basement garage, brand new twin-berth marina and pontoon, landscaped grounds. (Property website)

“Built in a bewildering variety of styles, it has a neoclassical entrance with Grecian style pillars and a green copper roof with Velux windows. An indoor leisure complex features a large pool and glass bridge, a Turkish bath and sauna. The master bedroom suite has a salon, dressing room, meeting room, office and kitchen. There are six further bedroom suites.” Evening Standard on Toprak Mansion, Bishops Avenue, January 21, 2008

“The refurbishment includes plans for a helicopter pad which will sink... into the garden, a 30-seat cinema and even a small river.” Evening Standard Jan 28 08

The custom-built Italian kitchen includes Gaggenau appliances and cabinetry, with Corian work surfaces. The master bedroom occupies an entire floor... A Lutron Homeworks system… governs the lighting, TV and satellite systems, central music, electronic window blinds and underfloor heating. Jewish Chronicle July 2010

Is this the biggest of them all? West Sussex is the location of just one of many homes of Russian oil tycoon and Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich. The 300-acre Fyning Hill estate is a collection of buildings including a twenties mansion, a second house, six cottages, a staff flat and four guest rooms, also boasts three polo grounds, formal gardens, a lake, a 50ft outdoor swimming pool, a tennis court, a go-kart track, a clay-pigeon shooting site, a trout lake, a rifle range and an equestrian centre.The property is said to be ringed by an electric fence for extra security. Virgin website feature on the homes of the rich

More here, here, here and here.


Samantha Upward wears antique jewellery and doesn't follow fashions (as she doesn't follow watch/perfume fashion). She's very anti-bling. Weybridges and Teales update their jewellery, following trends for cocktail rings, cuffs, chokers, sautoir necklaces, golfball necklaces, waisted and wishbone rings. Christine Teale wears a refined version of modern bling – very light silver and gold chains with tiny pendants. Pendant is a very Teale word. Sam says jewel, Jen says gem or gemstone – she likes aquamarines. Coloured pearls are terribly common.

Arkana wears a fistful of silver rings with huge semiprecious stones. Sharon wears a vast gold-effect earring with her name on it. If she wears real gold it's shiny, faceted and yellow. Sam would wear old gold (or pinchbeck). Caroline still calls it “eold geold” but Sam is trying hard to say “golld” with a short O because she’s sick of people laughing at her. Caroline, as well as inherited antique jewellery, might wear designer jewellery using big, uneven turquoise, amber and carnelian beads – especially if it’s made by a friend who doesn’t sell through a shop but has sales in her home.

In the 80s, watch and perfume snobbery was a Teale thing - Swatches, Rolexes and those ones with a granite/serpentine face with no markings, just hands. Harry Stow-Crat has a gold fob watch that belonged to his father. Digital watches have been naff since about 1977, and competitive perfume became common when people like Jade produced their own “line” and dress designers produced scent.

Holiday Wardrobe

When the Weybridges or the Teales visit London, they wear their holiday wardrobe - consisting of lightweight, practical matching leisurewear in stone or olive, with a lot of rainproof material, pockets and little strings with toggles. The Teales wear pale blouson jackets with burgundy corduroy accoutrements. The Weybridges’ outfits will be more hardwearing and military: their hats have zip pockets, and green brims to keep off the tropical sun. They even act as if they are on safari and the Londoners carrying on with their lives are the lions of Longleat. Their equivalents from the States wear shorts, polo shirts, baseball caps and small backpacks (whole family dressed the same). They all walk slowly in the middle of the pavement and stand on the left on escalators.

When Jen goes abroad she gets a whole new outfit of cotton strappy tops (you wear two at once with the underneath one showing) and cropped, wide-legged trousers with extra pockets and straps. Jade and apricot still have a firm grip. When Christine goes to a beach party in Thailand she wears a lot of turquoise, set off by shell jewellery on thongs. Sam gets her cotton dresses out of the old trunk she keeps them in and puts them on without washing and ironing them. She doesn’t own an ironing board.

Caro wears "bathers", Sam a "bathing suit", Eileen a "swimming costume", Jen a "tankini". Howard still calls swimming shorts “trunks”. Caro and Sam can never wear a tankini, or a gilet, or any garment with a name invented by a manufacturer.

Christine dresses Bryan in Dad clothes, especially on holiday. He wears baggy, low slung shorts with legs that stop just below the knee, and sandals like cut-up trainers. They make his legs look extremely short and hide everything that another woman might be interested in. On holiday, Sam and Gid wear old clothes: too-small jeans (Gideon), baggy shirts (Sam). Though if she can afford it, Sam buys them holiday clothes from Lands End (baggy cords and check shirts for him, fleece tops and elasticated denims for her). Eileen wears denim trousers with a denim jacket and denim butcher-boy hat, which she likes because she can shove her hair inside it and nobody can see her roots need doing. She also wears a denim dress of no particular period or style.

What to Wear

Wearing "ethnic" is sartorial code for, "I am much too serious to bother myself with fashion. I choose jewellery that looks a bit like something you'd find in an obscure gallery of the British museum to show how cultured I am. My female friends wear artisan scarves and consider themselves evolutionarily superior to women who wear diamanté." The tribal trend is an attempt by fashion designers to combat this. Good luck with that. Kate Muir ©Guardian News and Media 2010

Stow-Crats believe that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The upper classes don’t DO fashion. Harry wears his father’s indestructible tweed three-piece suits. Princess Anne’s style was fixed in the 60s, the Queen Mother’s in the 30s (those hats), and Queen Mary’s in the 1910s. Caro’s mother would get a tweed suit tailor made in a classic style so that it would last for years. One does not wear black in the country, one wears hunting clothes in camouflage colours – even one’s Wellington (rubber) boots are green. Sam used to call them “Wellingtons” but now finds herself calling them gumboots. Jen wears black “wellies”, Sam’s are flowery, and Sharon wears pink ones with a swirly pattern.

The same declension applies to trainers. Caro’s children wear white lace-up plimsolls (called after Mr. Plimsoll, who invented the Line). When Sam was a child, she wondered why she couldn’t have black plimsolls, or the elasticated ones that you didn’t have to lace up, like her friends. Eileen’s children wear “plimmies”. Jen and the Definitelies wear trainers. Jen’s are pink, blue or stone and look quite like shoes. The Definitelies’ trainers are big and have thick soles and cost a packet. Dave Definitely opens a shop selling them to collectors.

Eileen buys her clothes from Jacques Vert and thought Norma Major always looked well turned out. She and Jen purchase mother-of-the-bride outfits and occasion-wear from designers called Jesiré and Claudia Strater. (Sam thinks occasional gifts are what you give to people only sometimes. Eileen has a set of nesting occasional tables for when you have occasion to use them.)

Caroline wears a shirt with the collar turned up (in the 80s it was a piecrust). Before scarves disappeared from all heads but the Queen’s, she knotted hers on, not below, her chin. Both stratagems are designed to hide a double chin or wattles, which she doesn’t have.

Sharon Definitely’s clothes are trimmed with white fur. She wears white shoes with a white handbag (with fringes and rivets). Once the Definitelies adopted pink acryclic pseudo crochet ponchos nobody else could wear one (“Instant chav!” sighed Samantha). Definitelies dress their children as mini-adults. In the early 60s, everyday wear for little Definitely girls was a very short black velvet frock with a lace collar, accessorised by white pants, white knee socks and black patent T-bar shoes.

Jen’s clothes are always new, clean and ironed. She gives them to charity long before they’ve had a chance to get grey and bobbly. Sam wears Oxfam clothes, or a velvet jacket she’s had since university. She sticks with a hairstyle that she thinks suits her. If she lives in the country, she’s still wearing a long entrelac cardigan in muted French blue, jade and ochre.

When people wore slips, Sam would have called them “petticoats”. They’re now called “chemises”, according to the catalogues. Sam would never wear a "top" but a blouse, shirt, teeshirt or jersey. Or a shawl or stole. Eileen would wear a jersey or sweater, Jen and Mrs Definitely a top. Jen wears a “tee”, as the fashion press calls teeshirts. Sharon lives in sportswear. Sam looks down on people who don sports clothes without doing a sport, forgetting that men’s three-piece suits were based on 18th century hunting clobber.

Christine Teale saves up for a pair of expensive knee-high boots (Upwards never save up for anything, they just get a bigger overdraft). She has a smart work wardrobe, black and white if she works in the City (London’s financial district – translator’s note), and completely different weekend clothes. She wears strappy vest tops and cropped combats which make her bottom look large, but she doesn’t care, it’s just the thing for enjoying a barbecue in the back garden with friends. Her clothes become middle aged (or as she’d say, mumsy) far sooner than Thalia Upward’s. She’ll never meet Thalia in Wallis, but they might bump into each other in Gap or Next. Thalia goes to work in the same eccentric gear she wore as a student (Human Resources “have a word” with her about it).

Sam can't wear patent leather (the nuns used to say that if you wore patent leather shoes, boys could see your pants reflected in them). She can't wear faux leather either, even though she's a vegan. She is seen riding a sit-up-and-beg bike (with a basket) along the pavements of Bloomsbury, wearing a floral frock teamed with a cycling helmet.

No bare arms after 35, only pearls before dusk, says Caro’s mother. If she tells you in a marked manner “It’s snowing in Paris,” she means your petticoat is showing.

Don’t wear anything too jolly, says Mimi Spencer in The Times, 13 Nov 2010. This applies to patterned wellies, appliqué, decorative knitwear, “interesting” hosiery and witty handbags. … The same goes for slippers in the shape of cuddly toys, paisley, red and green together and over-accessorising (big earrings + big necklace).

Saturday 13 November 2010

How to Bring Up Children

"Our society is child obsessed" said The Observer, Aug 10 08 - meaning that we don't ignore, neglect or abuse them quite so much as we used to. The English middle classes can only stand so much being nice to children (abolition of corporal punishment in schools, children being given rights) before they fight back with dangerous activity holidays.

Jen Teale calls small children "little people" which makes Samantha Upward want to throw up. Sam calls them “children” because, as Eileen says, “a kid is a baby goat”, and besides it’s horribly folksy to call them “kids”. Gideon Upward can't seem to see that toddlers ARE little people, and expects them to be able to use a knife and fork, remove screw-top lids, "remember" to turn off lights and “get” irony.

Upward infants are given wooden toys. Teale “toddlers” get expensive play equipment for the garden. Definitely kids get Barbie’s Magic Castle.

Sharon Definitely signs her kids up with a child model agency. Jen’s join the sea cadets or play in a brass band. Sam’s poor offspring can’t even join the Brownies.

Teale children go to local schools where they make friends for life who live nearby. If their grades are good, they get a new bicycle or a “fountain pen” (to Teales, a pen is a biro). Upward children go to boarding school and have no-one to hang out with in the holidays. It may take decades for them to realise they’ve been short-changed. They’re given gold fountain pens when they’re longing for a giant cuddly lion. (This is archaic - it's all gadgets these days!)

Thalia Upward moves out of London to protect her children from commercialisation and celebrity culture. Some Upwards go slightly mad when they have children and put them into an exclusion zone. (No child of mine is going to watch Tellytubbies or eat Coco Pops!) Thalia rigidly rations her children’s telly/DVD watching and computer use. She only lets her children watch black and white movies. Her daughter is left out at school because she’s never watched Big Brother and doesn’t have a Barbie.

This attempt to control all input is usually foiled as soon as their kid meets others and hears about Action Man. Maybe the Upwards can absorb their folk devils one at a time - oh, the Tellytubbies are all right really but Coco Pops, never! Or else they moan about how guilty they feel about the rising tide of plastic tat and try to put the blame on someone or something else (“We had to! He said everyone else had got one! I had to do something to shut him up! It’s this terrible consumer society we live in!”) They find the plastic clutter particularly oppressive because they don’t know how to tidy up or store anything. Jen puts big toy bins in the kids’ bedrooms.

Upwards dress their children in special kid clothes. Old-fashioned, cotton, cute, smocked dresses and dungarees. The kids look wistfully at the Definitely children who are wearing designer brands covered in logos. The Upwards also don’t let their kids “play out” in case they mix with the wrong kind of children. But they’re the ones who complain about health and safety gone mad, the nanny state, and wrapping kids in cotton wool, and how we daren’t let them out to play any more for fear of paedophiles. Actually the real danger is cars (many more of them now than in 50s, 70s or whenever you were a child).

If Thalia stays in London, she goes to church to get her children into a CoE school where everybody wears a uniform and is well-behaved. The children like the singing and the family make friends and Thalia appreciates a quiet sit-down in beautiful surroundings and begins to think that Jesus had a point. But she doesn’t think she has anything in common with any weird American sect which insulates its children from the wider culture and dresses them in Little House on the Prairie frocks.

Upwards will tell you that childhood was invented by the Victorians, but all the same they want their kids to stay kids—they’re terrified of their children becoming “precocious”. At the same time they insist that the poor little mites eat and like very adult food that’s strong tasting or impossible to manipulate. They don't want them to let the class side down by preferring white bread and Heinz tomato soup. They give their kids food that has to be eaten with knives and forks and then yell at them for having terrible table manners.

They’re also keen that their children shouldn’t be frightened of dogs. When a large dog thrusts its face at their toddler (tied into his pushchair so he can’t escape), they take the dog’s side and insist it’s only trying to be friendly. The ones who Escape to the Country would really like their children to associate only with animals.

Upwards and Weybridges are very down on fear generally. People should just shut up about the paedophile threat - it’s making us too frightened. (See nanny state, cotton wool etc.) And they whinge in chorus at antiterrorist measures (“We mustn’t let FEAR of terrorists impede our FREEDOM in anyway.”)

Howard woofles that in his day children respected adollts (accent on the second syllable). He fails to understand why parents can't control their children in public (he thinks there must be some way of turning the sound right off).

Manners - say please! What's the magic word! You can, and you may! All groups try to teach their kids "manners" far too young - when the child has only just learned to talk.

What the Classes Read

Weybridges buy hardbacks and keep them in their dust jackets and only open them a crack so as not to break the spine. Howard says the idea of damaging books is morally repulsive. It means the Weybridges can’t read on the bus or train, but they don't mind because they travel everywhere by car. At home they prop the books on a carved wooden book rest to read, either on the dining room table or in bed.

Upwards buy paperbacks, break their spines, turn down their pages, drop them in the bath, throw them away and give them to Oxfam in crates, but they have bookshelves all round the walls full of orange Penguins, blue Pelicans, grey world classics, green-and-white detective stories, Picadors from the 80s, green Viragoes. Sam cuts fat books in half so she can put them in her bag or read them on the bus. On holiday in the wilds, she tears off the flyleaves to use as loopaper.

Eileen Weybridge belongs to a book group and reads the novels of the moment, which tend to be sentimental treatments of a current "issue".

Teales have one bookshelf in the living room which is only half-full. They read car repair manuals, crochet pattern books and Harry Potter. Jen listens to self-help audiobooks and is thinking of buying a Kindle.

Stow-Crats have hardbacks about Queen Elizabeth I and the Sackville-Wests. They have a library of leatherbound books in the west wing, but nobody ever reads them. They leave a pile of paperbacks in every guest bedroom, and used to put a tin of biscuits and a carafe of water on the bedside table – a hangover from pre-running water days.

Where the Upwards Live

When I bought a flat in Hackney (London) in the 80s a friend said: "Well, people are moving into the East End now" (as if the teeming millions, Eliza Doolittle and the Brothers Kray didn’t live there already). Samantha is appalled when her area begins to degentrify and bookshops are replaced by pound shops – or never gentrifies as promised.

Before Samantha's daughter Thalia moves out of London, she and her husband and children live in a large house in a distant and unfashionable suburb (though she’d never call it that) which is just next to a slightly more fashionable suburb. But it’s worth living in the less-desirable area because you get more space for your money.

Upwards have a sense of entitlement about space: they think they deserve a really, really big house with a lot of land (paddocks, orchards). If they live in a small house they act as if it was much bigger, filling it with nick nacks and clutter and huge furniture and never throwing anything away. That’s the real reason they move to the country, or France.

Upwards can't live in suburbs, or in provincial towns. Giles Whittell wrote in The Times
January 10, 2008: Some close friends of mine are in the following two-phase pickle. Phase one: respectable family with loveable kids pays mindbending school fees for want of a decent state primary, drawing psychological and sometimes actual support from soaring house prices. Phase two: credit crunch hits house prices and coincides with (yet) another baby...
“So move!” I tell them. “Do what everyone else does and get out!” But they're too delusional, or vain. (I've heard them talk about Tunbridge Wells and season tickets as a sort of death.) ...It's a tribal thing.

Stoke Newington is a suburb of North London attractive to Upwards who buy small Victorian houses and have two children called Chloe and Hugo. It’s very child-friendly, with children’s clothes shops with twee names like Two Potato Three. Stokey mums take their tiny children to the Belle Epoque café on Newington Green (where you can buy a peach tart for £11.50). The children go to the good primary schools in the area but before they reach secondary school age the parents move to Crouch End where the schools are better and less “mixed”.

Stokey attracts a particular brand of Upward. They used to be very politically active and there are still a lot of gay couples. The straight couples consist of a powerful woman and a pale, scrawny man whose shoulders are bowed under the weight of the small child strapped to his chest. His wife buys all his clothes including the baggy shorts he wears in summer. They don’t have rows, they “discuss issues”. Stokey dad is often found in sole charge of the kids. He talks to them in public plaintively and reasonably and much too much (and in slightly too loud a voice). He gives them scientific explanations why they can’t eat anything containing E numbers. The children tell you that they can’t have fizzy drinks or they’ll become hyperactive. They become drug addicts later in life.

Stokeys hang out in Fresh and Wild eating health foods and reading the notices about drumming circles, Pilates classes and baby yoga. There are two natural health centres. Shops run by Stokey couples sell 50s glassware, organic linen, recycled clothes. Many go bust quite fast, or else shut down when the couple move to Crouch End, where they open a boutique (linen shifts), or a club/café for their friends. Crouch End has so many psychotherapists it is known as Couch End.

Older Upwards move from London to the Cotswolds and become so scared of the big city that on their rare visits everybody they see at Waterloo is a Romanian asylum-seeker on the game. Also as they don’t go out very much any more they never see ordinary people. In fact they avoid places where ordinary people might be (Oxford Street, the seaside). They ask “How can you live in London? Oxford street is so crowded!” They avoid the wrong parts of France.

To many Upwards, the world consists of their own patch (Rock, the Cotswolds, North Norfolk, Fulham, Chelsea, Scotland, Crouch End) and they don't see anything outside it. In London they travel by tube, not bus, so as not to see the places in between.

Photo by Me.

Where the Definitelies Live

In Grays, Essex, (created out of an old chalk quarry) huge Georgian style houses are built on too-small plots, surrounded by a tiny garden full of expensive play equipment. There are no shade trees. All the cars are new Mondeos - nothing is ever bought second hand. There’s nothing to do but give competitive children’s parties with hired entertainers, and go to step aerobics classes (probably now Pilates and Swiss ball). The men have fun with quad bikes and jet skis.

Friern Barnet is rather similar, but more established. Children go to tap or ballet. People live by restoring WWII tanks and then go bankrupt. Business rivals are occasionally shot dead. Families sometimes have wadges of cash, sometimes none. Alternative career choices are protection rackets and private detection of mistresses and secret second families. You can be proud of your son when he gets a good job in a sex shop, or takes up gambling - professionally. Holidays are taken in Blackpool or the gangster parts of Spain. Disputes are solved by violence, running away and never being heard of again, or completely cutting off several members of your family. Get-togethers are difficult as you have to keep track of who’s not talking to whom. No wonder they break out in bisexuality or OCD, order up a Thai bride or suddenly marry their personal trainer or next-door neighbour and move to another continent.

Thanks to @IntervalThinks for fieldwork.

Quotes about Areas

Of course where you live reveals a lot about your place in the class layer cake. And what you call it tells us even more...

The word street, originally a Roman road, eg Ermine Street, came to mean crowded uniform rows of terrace houses or poky suburban villas to be found in every industrial town. At the end of the 19th century, enlightened community planners avoided the word "street". When Ebenezer Howard planned Letchworth, the first garden city, in 1903, he only named one street ... in the entire town. Early Letchworth, a mixture of Shavian enlightenment and Peter Pannish tweeness, called its main drag Broadway ... and there was a plethora of avenues, crescents, ways, shotts and even the Glade Briarpatch and Cowslip Hill. Developers throughout the land took the hint and enticed their genteel customers to live in avenues, crescents, promenades, ways, lanes and even "hoes" and "hays". But never streets. Nigel Agar (county councillor for Letchworth), Hitchin, Herts Guardian Notes and Queries March 20, 2007

According to property information site, the name of the street on which the property is situated can tell us a lot about how much that property is worth. The site found that properties found on streets with "Hill" in the name are worth an average of £341,666, well over 50% more than the average property price in the UK according to Zoopla’s own Zed Index.

Living on a "Lane" also commands a sizeable premium according to the study, with average prices an incredible £328,378.

Other names making up the top five include Mews (£294,869), Park (£283,069) and Green (£269,861).

In contrast, the cheapest properties are found on roads featuring the name "Street", with an average property price of £155,515 – less than half you can expect to pay to live on a Hill!

Other budget streetnames include "Terrace" (£156,387), "Crescent" (£176,488), "Court" (£178,488) and "View" (£184,546).

Friday 12 November 2010

The Definitelies

Jilly Cooper called social class D the Definitely-Disgustings because they’re often outraged: “Definitely! It’s disgusting!” They use overstatement, rather than the restrained understatement of the upper classes (if a duke is severely ill, his friends will say he’s “feeling a little sorry for himself”). But I think I'll just call them the Definitelies.

They’re the working classes, who toil in shops, factories and old people’s homes, clean houses, drive buses, sweep streets, sell fruit and veg. They listen to Radio 1, Heart and Magic, and shop at Lidl, Iceland and Chapel Market, Islington. They watch Sky on a huge plasma TV. They go to socials at their kids’ school and to see Country and Western bands in biker pubs. They have tattoos. They hang St. George flags out of their windows. They live on an estate that won a lot of architectural awards in 1971. They want to blow it up -- the Upwards want to List it. Their children, Sharon and Dave, go to movies in multiplexes and eat boxes of popcorn bigger than their heads. (The movies have lots of CGI and explosions and are very LOUD.) The kids don’t do very well at school but may excel at music or sport. Both generations wear a lot of bling. Mrs D is a granny at 38.